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Archive for May 2012

Take the time…save your life

Two people in my life have undergone surgery for cancer in the last 24 hours. Both cancers were found through diagnostic screening: colonoscopy and mammogram.

Our lives are so busy and we think we can put off those procedures – uncomfortable as they may be. But cancer cells wait for no one and move silently until we take notice.

 Make a call, get the appointment, drink the stuff they give you before the colonoscopy and take a friend to the mammogram and then go out for lunch. Whatever you need to entice yourself to honor the promises made to others to take good care of yourself.

I made that promise and eight years ago a routine mammogram found wildly aggressive cancer cells. I am here today. Oh, the joy I would have missed had I thought that my daily routine was more important than pausing for that screening test. Those silent cells would have killed me.

 Make the appointment – a gesture of love toward your family as well as toward yourself.

(S-R archives photo: cancer survivor George Karl encourages people in the fight against the disease.)

Mount Rainier women

I love this photo of these women on Mount Rainier, likely in the late 1930s or the 1940s. A colleague's father, and Mount Rainier lover, pins the photo as taken near the Paradise Inn, which might explain why the women could be dressed for church and still in the wilderness. Maybe they only needed to walk from a parking lot, up a trail and smile for the camera.

The photo comes from the King Collection, so named by me, because I inherited boxes of old photos, memorabilia and letters from Iowa King Cowan, a surrogate grandmother who left behind no children of her own. Her family of origin, the Kings, were well-known in Spokane in the early 20th century.

I'm trying, over the next many years, to get as many of the cool photos, such as this one, into our Spokesman-Review archives so they can become part of the historical record.

Most of the photos aren't labeled well, unfortunately. They come without context, but it's fun to imagine how the women felt this day, long ago, dressed well and posing with a most glorious mountain behind them.

(Photo from the King Collection/Spokesman-Review archives)

New babies, modern dangers

We had another baby born in my extended family today. Always a source of joy and celebration.

My sister, the grandmother, picked up a brochure that is handed out to new mothers concerning nursing. The brochure lists the things that nursing mothers shouldn't ingest because it could harm the mother through her breast milk.

“In my day, they warned us against eating chocolate or drinking too much coffee,” said my sister. The five children she nursed are now in their 30s and raising children of their own.

Today's brochure told moms to avoid about a dozen things, including: cigarettes, marijuana, alcohol and meth.

A nursing mom who doesn't know meth is bad for a baby? A nursing mom who is on meth? Both realities. Or why mention it in a brochure handed out to all moms?

It can seem a scary world for all newborns after reading a brochure like that. God protect them all.

A 68-year-old thank you

In my Sunday story, Fred Carter, a Royal Air Force servicemen who took a leave here in 1944 and was hosted by two Spokane women, said a big thank you to Spokane for the hospitality 68 years ago. The two women, Eva Hardin and Ada Schaefer, have been dead for decades, but for a week or so, as I lived with their story, they came alive for me.

They seemed like warm, smart, kind and caring women living a nontraditional life here in the 1920s, 30s, 40s and 50s — career women, no spouses, no children. And most of the people who even knew them have died now, too. I thought for sure this morning I'd have phone calls from others who knew the women. But so far, no.

It's one more reminder how fast our lives go. But a good reminder, too, that the good works we do can last much longer in people's hearts and memories.

As Fred, now 85, told me: “They were so welcoming. I just can’t get over it.”

(About the photo: Fred Carter, right, poses with his hosts, Ada Schaefer (seated) and Eva Hardin, along with fellow airman Charlie Abbott. The two Royal Air Force servicemen spent their leave at the women’s home in Spokane in October 1944. Photo courtesy of Fred Carter.)

Family connections

My grandfather served in the military in WWI. At some time after he came home, he needed a job.

He walked into the county offices in Duluth, Minnesota and told the clerk that he was there to apply for a job.

Grandpa was told there were no openings at the time. He replied, “That’s okay. I will just wait here until there is a job.”
He sat in the waiting area all day. He returned the next day and the next day. At the end of the third day, he was told that he was so tenacious, they would find him work.

They did.

He became the first Veterans’ Service Officer in St. Louis County, in Duluth, Minnesota.

Today, his great-grandson (my nephew) left home for his tour of duty in Afghanistan. My heart is filled with gratitude and anxiety.

I only hope that when my nephew comes home, he will have someone like his great-grandfather there to help him, if he needs it.

(S-R archives photo)

Mid-life: Mixed blessings

A story in today’s feature section profiles the challenges and rewards of the baby boomer generation: we endure loss, grief, which peaks when we are in our 50s. Some losses are predictable – the death of a parent, the children leaving home. Some are not: unemployment, the end of a marriage.  But even when we expect something like the death of a parent, the grief comes.

However, this time is not without benefit. We gain self-awareness, wisdom, and understanding of what is important in life. We have a greater sense of clarity and purpose in our lives. Boomers are 70 million strong – now aged 48-66 – and are working hard to learn from their experiences and from each other.

Life’s transitions seem mirrored in nature:  cycles of “dying,” letting go, a time of quiet or dormancy, then the new life, new beginnings. Our losses serve not only as something to move through, but they also come rich with lessons, to strengthen us with wisdom and compassion.

(S-R archives photo: Grass widows and buttercups)

The Dwindlers: A must-read

Michael Wolff's story in the Sunday New York Times is a must read. It's about his elderly mother's slow death. And how horrifying, and expensive it is, especially on the taxpayers.

Please read it all. Here are some excerpts to entice you.

The traditional exits, of a sudden heart attack, of dying in one’s sleep, of unreasonably dropping dead in the street, of even a terminal illness, are now exotic ways of going. The longer you live the longer it will take to die. The better you have lived the worse you may die. The healthier you are—through careful diet, diligent exercise, and attentive medical scrutiny—the harder it is to die. Part of the advance in life expectancy is that we have technologically inhibited the ultimate event. We have fought natural causes to almost a draw. If you eliminate smokers, drinkers, other substance abusers, the obese, and the fatally ill, you are left with a rapidly growing demographic segment peculiarly resistant to death’s appointment—though far, far, far from healthy.

My bet is that, even in America, even as screwed up as our health care is, we baby-boomers watching our parents’ long and agonizing deaths won’t do this to ourselves. We will surely, we must surely, find a better, cheaper, quicker, kinder way out.

This is not just a drawn-out, stoic, and heroic long good-bye. This is human carnage. Seventy percent of those older than 80 have a chronic disability, according to one study; 53 percent in this group have at least one severe disability; and 36 percent have moderate to severe cognitive impairments; you definitely don’t want to know what’s considered to be a moderate impairment.

Catholic nonsense

I have a button on my purse that reads “I STAND WITH THE SISTERS,” referring to the grand inquisition of the women religious in North America by the Vatican.

The whole episode is so ridiculous that I know of no one who supports this investigation. Literally, no one.

The clerical nonsense continues.  New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd writes about the battle between our political system which seeks to provide birth control coverage for all women who work or go to college at Catholic institutions and Catholic leaders who protest this effort by President Obama. 

Most Catholics think that birth control is acceptable. Gallup poll results released Tuesday tell readers that 82 percent of U.S. Catholics believe that birth control is morally acceptable.

“The church insists it’s an argument about religious freedom, not birth control. But, really, it’s about birth control, and women’s lower caste in the church”, Dowd says.

Perhaps I need to revise my button to include not only the amazing nuns, but my Catholic lay-women friends, too: “I STAND WITH ALL MY SISTERS!”


Saturday night we went to dinner at a favorite Thai restaurant.  With a table near the entrance, we had a perfect view of the high school couples who were attending prom.

The girls wore dresses so sparkly, they should have come with warning labels. The boys sported tuxedoes and those shiny patent-leather shoes.

The girls tugged at the spaghetti straps that wouldn’t stay in place while trying to lift the hems of the dresses off of the floor with their other hand. Their necklines scooped and dipped, much to their dates’ obvious satisfaction.

“You went to your high school prom, didn’t you?” asked my husband.  I told him yes, but it was the 70s and my dress looked more like an Amish woman’s nightgown, compared to these gowns. Well, maybe not quite that bad. And I remember having a fun time, happy to be with my boyfriend and comfortable in my well-shopped for dress.

What I noticed most about these prom participants, was not one of them smiled. They did not appear to be having a good time; they appeared very ill at ease in their fancy frocks and rented shoes. The girls ran in a posse, back and forth to the bathroom while the boys circled in a small huddle.

Soon a couple came in alone – no limo and no awkward flamingo dancer dress, but a girl wearing a stunning red satin dress and shoes that didn’t rival a local skyscraper’s height. Her date wore a suit a with a tie that matched her dress. They sat down and giggled and chatted away the night.  

Growing up is tough and even when we dress for the next act of our lives, it still takes time to grow comfortable in our own skin, our own lives. Perhaps that is what nights like prom are for – a brief, exciting dress rehearsal.

(S-R archives photo: Shadle Park High School student Erin Fiorillo shows off one of the many prom dresses she has collected for her senior project.)

UW: A Center of Excellence in Pain Education

The University of Washington is one of just 11 institutions nationwide selected as a Center of Excellence in Pain Education.

The National Institutes of Health announced the honor today in a press release.

The National Institutes of Health Pain Consortium has selected 11 health professional schools as designated Centers of Excellence in Pain Education (CoEPEs). The CoEPEs will act as hubs for the development, evaluation, and distribution of pain management curriculum resources for medical, dental, nursing and pharmacy schools to enhance and improve how health care professionals are taught about pain and its treatment.  “Virtually all health professionals are called upon to help patients suffering from pain,” said NIH Director Francis S. Collins, M.D., Ph.D. “These new centers will translate current research findings about pain management to fill what have been recognized as gaps in curricula so clinicians in all fields can work with their patients to make better and safer choices about pain treatment.”

The other 10: the University of Pennsylvania Perelman School of Medicine, Philadelphia; Southern Illinois University, Edwardsville; the University of Rochester, N.Y.; the University of New Mexico, Albuquerque; the Harvard School of Dental Medicine, Boston; the University of Alabama at Birmingham; the Thomas Jefferson University School of Medicine, Philadelphia; the University of California, San Francisco; the University of Maryland, Baltimore; and the University of Pittsburgh.

CaringBridge: An invaluable resource

A women we know from our early morning water aerobics class was missing from class for a week or two. This happens. People travel. But then we found out her husband, in his early 60s, had a fairly serious stroke.

Luckily, our water buddy Kathleen was on CaringBridge, a free and personal website where family can update extended family and other friends on a health crisis.

Kathleen returned to class Monday. Everyone was happy to see her there, and because she was on CaringBridge with so many of us, she didn't have to repeat health updates to a dozen people. This site is wonderful, no string attached, no hidden agenda.

Drowning major cause of death for little ones

As you plan your summers for your kids, please, please get them swimming lessons. Here's why, from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention:

Drowning results in more deaths among children 1-4 years of age than any cause except birth defects, but early swimming lessons are effective in reducing this risk. In the US from 2005-2009, an average of 3,880 people died from unintentional drowning each year and more than 5,700 received emergency department care for nonfatal drowning. Overall, the death rate for males was four times that of females. Children 4 years old or younger had the highest rates of drowning; higher than any cause except birth defects.  Half of these incidents occurred in swimming pools. Finally, half of all nonfatal drowning victims treated in emergency departments required hospital admission or transfer for further care.  Because swimming pools (often at their own home) remain high risk locations for children 4 years old or younger and research shows that early formal swimming lessons reduce risk, public health and medical professionals should encourage and support swimming lessons as a life-saving skill along with other proven interventions.

(S-R archives photo)

A mother’s legacy: good financial role-modeling

Our parents role-model how to earn, spend and save money. Brooks C. Sackett, a Spokane financial planner and advisor, recently shared his Mother's Day message in an email to his workout friends. I asked his permission to share it with our blog readers. Here it is. Thanks Brooks!

My Mother wanted a baby and she had me. My Father had no interest in children and my parents divorced when I was eight. Until her death in 1991 at age 81 she taught me all she knew by example. I never knew how really modest our circumstances were until I was out of school and in my own professional practice. Why? My Mother handled her time, energy, and the little money she had prudently and cheerfully.

My Mother had small envelopes that she filled with cash each time she was paid for her work as a clerk-typist at the Health Department in Long Beach, California. These envelopes held what money was needed to cover our bills. The money was always there and waiting to be retrieved when we went grocery shopping, or when other bills arrived. We were never short. My Mother never uttered a word of worry about money. Everything was always handled and we never lacked for anything as well as I could tell.

The envelopes were always placed in order and all leaned against a beautiful red plastic clock radio in our kitchen. This was the radio that announced the death of Stalin on March 5, 1953 (yes, I know, this is all ancient history). I asked my Mother if it was good that Stalin had died. Even then I knew he was a Russian Communist and therefore a bad man. She explained that it’s always sad when someone dies. Today, I still feel that way.

In grades seven through nine my Mother always gave me a few dimes or a quarter each Tuesday so I could buy U.S. Savings Bond stamps from the school nurse who pasted them into my book. Eventually these could be turned in for a bond. At the end of the school term my name was announced over the PA system as having saved $17.80 during the year. There was an audible gasp in my homeroom and at recess two girls a grade ahead of me asked if I really had saved that much.

My Mother had no real investment skill and her “portfolio” never consisted of more than real estate that was paid off, cash in the bank, and some life insurance policies. This seemingly modest financial foundation gave me a happy, secure, and fun life as a young boy. I learned that hard work was its own reward, learning was more fun than spending, and planning was better than not. These were all precious lessons that I honor my Mother by sharing with others. Happy Mother’s Day, Mom! I love you and hope I still make you proud.

 (Illustration from S-R archives)

Kennedy tragedy…again

It is easy to believe those who are wealthy, famous or educated must have a great life, free of the anxiety and problems others suffer. Then you think about the Kennedy family.

Tragedy has once again befallen this American family.

Mary Kennedy, the estranged wife of Robert Kennedy Jr., hanged herself yesterday. She was an accomplished architect, an involved philanthropist and a devoted mom.

People will speculate as to her motivation, but perhaps even she may not have understood what prompted her to end her life. Mental illness? A moment of desperation? A world view she perceived offered only suffering? No exit?

As this family once again stands in the public spotlight, awash in grief, I pause and offer thoughts of hope and healing.

Remembering the wedding people, some now gone

Today, my husband I celebrate our 27th wedding anniversary. We scanned this photo in of all the family members who attended in 1985. Seven of the people in the photo have died — my dad, two brothers-in-law, a sister-in-law, an aunt and two uncles.

The children in this picture (my nieces, nephews and stepchildren) are in their 30s and 40s now. Most have children of their own. Their children look like them. I do double takes. None of the nieces and nephews were married yet, and so their spouses aren't in this photo, either.

I am in awe of how our family has grown and multiplied and grown richer in spirit with new people joining these families — mine and my husband's. And the family members who have passed on, I like to believe they are with us still, in spirit and in good wishes, and in awe at how much has transpired since that unseasonably warm day in Spokane, 27 years ago today.

Happy anniversary to us all.

Lower education, higher rates of smoking, obesity

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released statistics today on the link between education levels and obseity and smoking. The better your education, the less chance you'll smoke or be overweight. And the greater chance you'll live longer.

Some highlights:

  • In 2007-2010, women 25 years of age and over with less than a bachelor’s degree were more likely to be obese (39 percent-43 percent) than those with a bachelor’s degree or higher (25 percent). 
  • In 2010, 31 percent of adults 25-64 years of age with a high school diploma or less education were current smokers, compared with 24 percent of adults with some college and 9 percent of adults with a bachelor’s degree or higher. 
  • On average in 2006, 25-year-old men without a high school diploma had a life expectancy 9.3 years less than those with a Bachelor’s degree or higher.  Women without a high school diploma had a life expectancy 8.6 years less than those with a bachelor’s degree or higher.

Fish pedicures: Don’t do it

In our “one more damn thing to worry about” category comes this news from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's Emerging Infectious Diseases journal:

Have you have tried the new spa trend of having a pedicure in which your feet are nibbled on by fish for cosmetic reasons or to ease skin conditions?

The CDC message? Don't do it. Here's why:

“Examinations of doctor fish destined for these spas found that they can carry harmful bacteria. Thus, although reports of human infection after fish pedicures are few, there may be some risks.”

Have you ever had a fish pedicure?

RIP: Brochures

This morning, I walked over to the advertising agency Boom to return some Women Helping Women photos. I walked in and two hip looking young men, and a very fashion-forward young woman, were in this cool space that didn't look very Spokane at all.

They explained they do creative work for clients all through the country.

“Do you have a brochure?” I asked.

No, they didn't. But they gave me a CD (see photo of it open here) which had information on the company.

Walking back to the office, I realized that brochures might be on their way out, too. It will likely be awhile, even a few more years, but printed brochures, the staple of business dealings for decades, might be on life supprt.

And as I was leaving, one of the guys, Dylan Kinsella, handed me his business card. Made of copper.

RIP: Boring, plain business cards, made out of paper?

Find a purpose, keep your brain

If you have a purpose in life, you might not lose your memories.

HealthDayNews released a story today about a study that looked at how having a strong purpose in life can keep your brain strong.

“Somehow, having a purpose allows people to cope with the physical signs of Alzheimer's disease,” said Patricia Boyle, an associate professor at the Rush Alzheimer's Disease Center at the Rush University Medical Center in Chicago.

Among those who had a lot of brain gunk — known as plaques and tangles — the ones who had greater purpose in life appeared to be less affected by a decline in their mental (or “cognitive”) powers. “The rate of cognitive decline was about 30 percent slower for someone with greater purpose in life, compared to someone with less purpose,” Boyle said.

(The researchers defined a purpose in life as the “tendency to find meaning from life experience, to be intentional and focused,” Boyle said. “It's an indicator of well-being, that life is good and you are contributing to your life, you're making decisions.”)

What older folks did you know who retained a sense of purpose late into life?

(S-R archive photo of Betty White, a 90-year-old actress filled with life)

New Zealand tragedy

When we are young, we seek adventure and look for ways to explore our world. Young people are so privileged to travel to different countries, to immerse themselves in another culture, and to learn about life while living it in new and exciting ways. Travel, I strongly believe, is the best form of education.

Sadly, the adventure ended for some Boston University students when their van crashed in New Zealand. Despite the risks, we release our children into the world and hope that they understand the dangers, the risks.  Unfortunately, precious children cannot be protected from accidents, nor can our hearts be protected from the anguishing grief those accidents bring.

Peace for the families and the Boston University community in the days ahead…

Convening the future

When I was younger, I always wanted to jump ahead a generation. At 10, I dreamed of driving and steady boyfriends. At 20, in a Florence, Italy cafe, I journaled for hours about my worries and hopes for a career someday. As I age, I tend not to want to skip ahead so fast, but I still look forward to the next chapters in my life and the lives of my peers.

That's one reason I took the day off yesterday, swapping a work day to today to attend the Celebrate Life Expo at Spokane County's fairgrounds. It's filled with seminars, booths, entertainment geared mostly for the 65 and older set. So a generation ahead of mine, but the generation and its issues I am focusing more and more aging I track aging boomers into old age and beyond.

It's just getting started, but I am plotting out my day here. Hearing test? Bone scan? Square dancing demo at 2? But now, waiting for the fashion show to begin.

Motherhood …a journey of grace

Mother’s Day. I tolerated it during those years when I longed for a child who could not be born. A child who could not be born from me.

And then…he arrived. A child through adoption, the miraculous process of child matched with parents. The ultimate blind date.

Alex is 18-years-old now. I still marvel at our coming together: different continents, same blood type. He looks like my husband, he acts like me. But his talents are uniquely his own. His creative mind, his generous spirit, his refusal to hurry through life, he is a wondrous soul who knows himself and acts accordingly – no matter how much I try to take him off course. I wish I had possessed half his self-confidence when I was twice his age.

I am grateful for the moments: when he was 3-years-old, he put his chubby little hands on my face and proclaimed, “I want to mah-wee you, Mommy!”  I watched one morning as he closed his eyes tightly and jumped on top of a book. When I asked, in that staccato, parent voice,”!” He said, “I want to get in that story!” That year he also announced at breakfast he had been gone in the night, “The Moon Horse came and got me and took me for an adventure, Mommy. So, when I’m gone from my bed, don’t worry. I am with the Moon Horse.”  

At 7-years-old, he decided he loved “putting on shows” and stepped onto a stage, memorizing lines, performing with ease before 200 people. Tonight he performs in Footloose at a local theater. 

When my cancer came, he stayed close and made huge bowls of mashed potatoes because I said that was the only food that tasted good when I was in the hospital. Eight months later, we excused him from school for two weeks and traveled to Italy.  We walked off the grief from my illness - 81 miles over Italian streets. Alex is a perfect traveling companion: curious about everything and undaunted when plans go awry. He loved the “dead guy in a glass box” at St. Peter’s in Rome. He walked through Assisi, chattering on and on about St. Francis, who “talked” with animals.  We stood still in Piazza della Signoria catching snowflakes on our tongues while pigeons strutted around our feet. He hauled his suitcase on and off trains and over cobblestones through Bologna, Florence, Rome, Pescara, Perugia.  

While I have hauled him across this continent as well as  across the Atlantic Ocean, he has taken me on this wonderful journey of motherhood, a journey made up of wonderful moments.

And that is my daily prayer: give me grace to pay attention, to the moments, to the joy, to the gift who is our child.

We waited so long for him to arrive, but our journey, like those Italian trains, moved fast. Someday soon the Moon Horse will call him and he will follow, jumping into his own story. I’ll try not to worry. As he travels into young adulthood, I hope we have not left him with too much childhood baggage to haul into his future.

Thank you, Alex, for the privilege of sharing our lives, for teaching us more than we could possibly teach you. No matter how old you are or where your dreams take you, know that our love travels with you, always…through eternity into forever. Xoxoxo ~ Mom

(Photo of Cathy and Alex, Piazza della Signoria, Florence, 2005)

Camp Chmepa helps kids in grief

Kids can do grief much differently than adults. They cannot sit with their sadness too long. And play is essential to their healing.

For several summers now, Hospice of Spokane has offered free camp for children ages 7 to 15 who have lost a loved one. They gather for two days at a camp on Lake Coeur d'Alene.

“While at camp, kids are busy with activities like swimming, basketball and crafts, as well as finding new, creative ways to remember their loved ones. Many campers make lasting friendships, giving them a support network that lasts long after camp ends. And all campers have the powerful realization that they are not alone in their grief. Most of the kids at Camp Chmepa have experienced an unexpected (traumatic or sudden death) of a loved one,” explained Dale Hammond of Hospice.

The camp this year will be held July 27 to 29, but applications are due soon.

To apply, call 509-456-0438 or go to and click on the Camp Chmepa button. There is no fee to attend camp, but space is limited.

Obama says…

Today I bumped into an Italian man who has lived in this country for 30 years. Since I can still speak some Italian from my college year in Florence, I started a conversation.

He spoke about what has changed in Italy, his mom, how he met his wife. And he told me he became an American citizen when Obama was elected.

He said that he knew he would finally be accepted as a real American because this country elected a black man  - Obama - as its president. Now he could feel accepted, too.

“He is the smartest man we ever had as president. And now he has accepted everyone when he (Obama) said he supports marriage for everybody,” said my Italian acquaintance.

“He is a man who is smart and has a good heart.”

It is a good time for all – all people, no matter how they define themselves – to be a citizen of the United States.

(S-R archives photo)

Hair-brain comments?

Hillary Clinton received a great deal of attention yesterday…not for anything she said in Bangladesh as Secretary of State, but instead for the state of her appearance. She wore her glasses, no make-up and had this to say when comments were made:

 “I feel so relieved to be at the stage I'm at in my life right now. Because you know if I want to wear my glasses I'm wearing my glasses. If I want to wear my hair back I'm pulling my hair back. You know at some point it's just not something that deserves a lot of time and attention. And if others want to worry about it, I let them do the worrying for a change.”  

When will people get it? It’s not about the hair…it’s her brains under her hair that deserve our attention. Maybe next week we can talk about Speaker John Boehner's tendency toward tears?

(S-R archives photo)

Say it now

Facebook seems to be “trending” today on this: The desire to reconnect with old friends but the inability to do so because the friend has died. (Often discovered on a Google search when the obit appears.)

My Facebook friend and former S-R staffer, Kory Boatman, had a variation on this theme. He wrote:

 Today I lay down a challenge for you. If you can, call your mom and tell her you love her. Or, better yet, if possible, drop by her house and give her a big hug and tell her what she means to you. Today would have been my dear mom's 71st birthday. How I wish I could fulfill my own challenge. Sadly, I can't . Mom, I miss you and love you more and more every day. Your infectious smile still lights up my days and comforts my nights. Thank you for all your love and guidance you provided along the way. You are my inspiration.

So bottom line: Look up those old friends — now. Say I love you — now. It's never too early. But it's often too late.

(S-R archives photo)


The ideal obit: Larry McKay

The obituary for Larry McKay ran in our newspaper Sunday. It should be passed out in journalism classes, and in funeral homes, for a great example of an obit that is both witty and profound.

It's been shared 473 times on Facebook. Treat yourself and read the whole thing. But here's an excerpt:

Larry was always a model big brother. In that same park he taught Dale valuable lessons in navigation by ditching him in the middle of the woods and heading home. He also made sure Dale had new tennis shoes whenever he needed them. He showed Dale how to jam the toe of his old tennis shoe into the escalator stair at JCPenney then run to the store clerks with the damaged shoe. The clerk would get anxious and offer a brand new pair off the shelves while ushering him out of the store. Worked every time.


Maurice Sendak

Maurice Sendak, children’s book author and illustrator, died early today. He was 83.  

His work entertained and delighted children. He once said his illustrations for “Where the Wild Things Are” were taken from his relatives – the less attractive and rather unpleasant ones.  

“Sendak also created costumes for ballets and staged operas, including the Czech opera ‘Brundibar,’ which he also put on paper with collaborator Pulitzer-winning playwright Tony Kushner in 2003.”

Sendak designed the amazing Pacific Northwest Ballet's “Nutcracker” production which later became a television movie and he produced various animated TV series based on his illustrations.

His quirky illustrations and view of childhood resonated with children everywhere. He leaves a treasured literary legacy for generations to enjoy.

(S-R archives photo: Max Records stars in “Where the Wild Things Are.” Warner Bros.)

Life: The great blindsider

Over the weekend, I read Roger Rosenblatt's second book about dealing with the death of his 38-year-old daughter, Amy, a doctor who died suddenly of a heart condition, leaving three children and a husband behind. Rosenblatt, a well-known journalist and essayist, moved in with his daughter's family, along with his wife.

HIs first book, Making Toast, was spare but powerful. His most recent book, Kayak Morning, has a similar tone. Each book is short and a bit reserved. You want more after finishing them.

I loved what he said in an interview with Washingtonian magazine.

He was asked: “What have you learned about life?”

Roseblatt's answer: That it can blindside you. Everybody else learns this at an earlier age. I mentioned it in Making Toast. I was cursed with a charmed life, and very little bad happened—or at least very little bad happened that I didn’t bring upon myself. When Amy died, it was like, “Are you kidding? This is going to happen in life?” Since then, through the responses to Making Toast, through the responses of friends who had lost children, whom we didn’t even know had lost children, I began to understand what life meant—that life is to be endured. It’s not going from celebration to celebration or from satisfaction to satisfaction. It is basically an endurance test. Once you understand that for yourself, you begin to understand it for others.

Holding our breath…again

It has been 15 months since my nephew arrived home from a one-year tour of duty in Iraq. Tomorrow his brother leaves for a nine-month stint in Afghanistan. I have three sisters, no brothers. And among us we have 10 sons, no daughters. And our closest experience to family in the military was our father who served in WWII. We are not accustomed to these vigils of worry with our children living in such violent circumstances.

 The Peace Corps had a slogan a few years ago: “The Peace Corps: the toughest job you’ll ever love.” I knew the first time I heard it, that it was not written by a parent. Every mom knows that parenting is the toughest job you’ll ever love. And that tough part is not the diapers, the colic, the endless responsibility or even the teen years. It is the letting go.

 To raise a child, to love them more than you love your own life and then to step aside as they make their own choices, is tough.  We cannot save them from emotional or physical hurt. We cannot live their lives for them; we cannot protect them when life throws them deep grief and loss. We can simply bear witness to their journey, their choices. 

On the phone this morning, we chatted, that nephew and I, that 30-year-old man who has chosen to serve his country through the US military. This man who is just as he was a child: kind and gentle and thoughtful. I promised to call his mom often. I promised prayers without ceasing and regular care packages of whatever he wants. And I will end each message as I always have: “Brad, sending you all my love and Aunty Cathy kisses!” I didn’t cry until he hung up. 

The countdown to our reunion begins…

(S-R archives photo)

A gentleman rapper…farewell

I am from the Beach Boys era, not the Beastie Boys, but I could not help noticing all the attention the death of Beastie Boy Adam Yauch has received in the last 24 hours.

 The trio was recently inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, Yauch was too ill to attend the ceremony, but wrote “to anyone who has been touched by our band, who our music has meant something to, this induction is as much our as it is yours.”

 Sometimes we learn more about great contributions to our culture after the contributors die and we discover their legacy, an on-going legacy of joy, music and in Yauch’s life, compassion, too.

Meet me in St. Louis

In the King Collection, memorabilia and photographs inherited from my surrogate grandmother, I recently found a Souvenir Book of the Louisiana Purchase Exposition 1904.

There's a photo in the book of a De Smet Bridge at the exposition.  Pierre-Jean De Smet was a Jesuit priest and missionary  who established religious institutions throughout the Midwest and the West. There's a bust of him on GU's campus and one of the college's infamous dorms, DeSmet Hall, is named for him.

When I find stuff like this, I immediately want it to have a good home. I emailed GU's archivist to see if she wanted it for their De Smet collection. No answer yet. There must be a lot of these still in circulation, because they aren't very expensive on auction sites, about $30 tops.

So these dilemmas continue. How do you find good homes for this kind of historic stuff?

(Photo from King Collection/Spokesman-Review archives)

Trend alert: Tornado helmets

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention sent out a press release today concerning the use of helmets if a tornado approaches. It reads, in part: 

We don’t have research on the effectiveness of helmet use to prevent head injuries during a tornado, but we do know that head injuries are common causes of death during tornadoes, and we have long made the recommendation that people try to protect their heads.  Individuals may decide to use helmets to protect their heads. However, because the time to react may be very short, people who choose to use helmets should know where they are and have them readily accessible. 

It makes me wonder what other strategies will arise to protect us in severe weather. Hurricanes, earthquakes, volcanoes? Any ideas?

(S-R Archives photo)


Consequences, still

Our Boomer lifestyle choices, discontinued decades ago, may still influence our health.  A report from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention  reveals  the “number of baby boomers dying from a ‘silent epidemic’ of hepatitis C infections is increasing so rapidly that federal officials are planning a new nationwide push for widespread testing.”

Many Boomers contracted the virus decades ago – through injection drugs or blood transfusions, before blood screening was improved, during the time of AIDS.

New medications are available for the suppression of the virus. The meds are not cheap and they do come with side effects, but may be more appealing than a liver transplant or the agony of treatment for liver cancer.

Watch for a recommendation later this year from the CDC for routine testing  for Hep C of people born between 1945 and 1965.

Aging: Random body eruptions

Saturday morning as I was looking something up on my iPad, a huge lump appeared on my left hand, just below my index finger, about the size of a big marble. I hadn't bumped it. Soon, the area around it turned black and blue. The lump is now the size of a small marble but the black and blue has spread all over my hand, like a wine stain.

My older sister, Lucia, who worked in health care for decades, diagnosed it correctly: A ganglion cyst. They appear. Then they usually disappear. Sometimes, you can squish them with a heavy book, she said.

I'm learning not to panic over weird body stuff as I age. At the Age Boom Institute I attended in March, Steve McConnell, an aging expert with Atlantic Philanthropies, said one of the things he's noticed about aging is how aches and ailments seem to rotate around the body. One day your shoulder aches. It goes away. And then the knees flare. I saw a lot of head nodding in the group.

I don't think aging boomers will rush quickly to the doctor when these body eruptions, aches and anomalies appear. We'll wait them out. That's my strategy for the ganglion cyst. And if it doesn't disappear in a few weeks, we still have lots of heavy dictionaries in the newsroom. Boom!

(Thanks to S-R photog Dan Pelle for shooting the photo of my hand with my cell phone. He showed me the warts that suddenly appeared on his finger this week.)

Do you want fries with that habit, Sister?

U.S. Catholic, a monthly publication discussing, reviewing, contemporary issues among Catholics, has commented frequently on the Vatican's Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith’s investigation of American women religious (sisters, nuns).

A current commentary on their weekly bulletin gives readers a chance to read the details of this process – as one writer states: at best an abuse of authority, at worst it looks like bullying.

And anyone who has had the privilege of knowing women religious understands that these communities are unique in their charisms, in their ministry. These communities are not franchises – like McDonalds - they are life-long blessings, blessings Catholics will protect at all costs.

(S-R archives photo)

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About this blog

Writer Catherine Johnston of Olympia, Wash., addresses issues facing aging baby boomers and seniors as well as issues of serious illness, death and dying, grief and loss.

Ask a question: Catherine welcomes questions about aging issues and grief. Email her at

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